Nowadays, a lot of people get all of their information from the Internet by reading articles or watching videos. Even so, I know a lot of you, like me, still enjoy sitting down and reading a good book. However, navigating your way to the best poker books for beginners and intermediate players can be rather difficult.
Even Internet searches are generally not much help. Many of the lists I see out there seem to be based more on reading the latest Amazon reviews and less about having actually read the book itself! I am here to help with that, since I have read dozens of poker books, including all the ones on my list.
Just buying the latest “hot” book out may not be the best way to go, since poker books have become a lot more nuanced over the years and tailored to specific strategies that might not be relevant next year, or even next month, for that matter. What is really needed is clarification on what are the best evergreen books for both cash games and MTT play.
To that end, here is the list of my recommended Texas Hold’em poker books that are the best bang for your buck when learning to play poker. Just keep in mind that my choices are not really for absolute beginners, but rather more intermediate players. You will need some basic poker knowledge when it comes to the rules and strategy. Please note that I have included links to all the books on Amazon for your convenience.
First, I know some people are really busy, so here is the short version. Assuming you have read many of the basic books out there, like Harrington On Hold’em (Click for Amazon Listing), I would start with Professional NL-Hold’em and absorb it completely before reading anything else. It should be your bible going forward, especially for cash games. No matter what your chosen game is, PNLH is a must read. As I always say, if you can beat cash games, tournaments or sit and go’s becomes child’s play.
Additionally, and since most players will also play tournaments, I would also recommend that you read both Poker Tournament Formula, Volume 1 and Poker Tournament Formula, Volume 2 first, then conclude with Kill Phil and Kill Everyone. The concepts in these books perfectly complement Professional No’Limit Hold’em, by taking a similar logical and formulaic approach to poker, while at the same time allowing for creativity within the strictures of profitable theory. Overall, both two-book series will give you a crash course on the type of play that you have to implement in order to survive in modern poker tournaments.
Now, for those of you not in a hurry, let’s talk about each book or series individually:
When Professional No-Limit Hold’em was published, it was groundbreaking at the time. There really was very little good literature on the subject of cash games at the time. If you wanted to play cash games well, you basically had either Super System or The Theory Of Poker. While they were both really important poker books for their time, by 2007 they had become a bit dated.
Enter Professional No-Limit Hold’em. What I really like about this book is how it takes a complex subject, no-limit hold’em cash games, and gives you an exact blueprint for navigating the games via their REM process (Range Equity Maximize). The authors, Matt Flynn, Sunny Mehta, and Ed Miller, use the “commitment threshold,” around which an entire poker strategy can be based. By planning your hand and creating profitable stack-to-pot ratios, you can more easily navigate post-flop planning and have confidence that you are committing your stack correctly. Confused by what I am saying right now? Then this is a must read for you. Do not play another poker hand without absorbing every word of this book! Automatic Poker fans will appreciate much of what PNLH has to offer since many of the concepts work very well for people who frequently play stacks 50 big blinds and below. Even tournament players can benefit tremendously since the majority of most tournaments will have you playing in low “SPR” environments. Everyone is short-stacked in every tournament eventually, right? Bottom line: If you have never delved into the thought processes
of a professional poker player, prepare to have your mind blown completely away.
The Best Tournament Books
The Poker Tournament Formula books were written from the perspective of a professional Blackjack player, Arnold Snyder. His objective for the books was to come up with the true formula for crushing poker tournaments. His basic premise was that the “tight is right” mentality simply did not work if you were looking to maximize your earnings from the tournament format since most of the prize pool is usually up at the top. In other words, min-cashing often is nowhere near as good as busting most of the time but getting one of the top prizes occasionally.
The most important contribution of these books is to highlight how important it is to not just sit around and wait for “good” hands to play since very few opportunities to gain chips present themselves in a multi-table tournament. The main idea is to get involved early and often in order to build chip utility. Snyder introduces a controversial theory that the more chips you have, the more valuable each chip is. This flies in the face of how most players view the value of chips due to the mathematical concept of ICM, which says that the fewer chips you have, the more each chip is worth. I tend to side with Snyder on this one.
Think about it. Have you ever had a mountain of chips in front of you during a tournament? I’m talking about a monster stack here, where you have at least twice as much as the 2nd place stack at the table. Having this many chips affords great freedom in choosing when to play a pot. Since you can put everyone else’s tournament on the line, everyone else at the table must fear you! And while each chip might be worth less when compared to the prize pool, the value of the fear factor is a far bigger consideration in the early to middle stages of a tournament.
In my opinion, you have to understand both the ICM version and the Poker Tournament Formula versions equally. The latter to navigate the early to middle stages, and the former to navigate the late stages where everyone is short. Trust me, even if you are not primarily a tournament player, these books are worth it. The first book covers the faster speed tournaments and the second book adjusts the strategy to play in deeper stacked events.
The final two books I recommend for intermediate players is the Kill Phil series. I feel both books complement the Snyder books very well. At the end of the day, both book series basically advocate a similarly aggressive style of play in tournaments. However, Kill Phil and Kill Everyone attack the “problem” of poker tournaments from a slightly different angle.
Book 1, Kill Phil, lays out a very basic strategy, designed for true beginners who have difficulty playing post-flop. The entire concept is based on simplifying the game and giving a novice the “best chance possible” to actually win an event, even with limited skill. Basically, the book says, “if you can’t be good, at least be dangerous,” thus the title.
I recommend this book to anyone who is more on the beginner end of poker. For those with a bit of experience, you may want to just skip to book 2. In my opinion, this book complements Poker Tournament Formula very nicely. Both focus on aggressive strategies, but from different angles, with various ways of approaching different stages of tournaments. My advice is to read both series and use different ideas from each book as a hybrid to complement your current style of play. I won’t give too many more details on the books, I wouldn’t want to spoil them!
In what Order Do I Read These Books?
If I were getting started again and wanted to move from the beginner stage, I wish I had someone like me to tell me exactly how to proceed. If I could talk to me, I would have told me to read poker books in the following order after Harrington On Hold’em:
- Professional No’Limit Hold’em
- Poker Tournament Formula 1
- Kill Phil
- Poker Tournament Formula 2
- Kill Everyone
As a bonus, if you want to drastically improve your 50bb and below skills, have read my book, and want to go further with that sort of strategy, you will find that my recommended poker books offer the least path of resistance to crushing both short stack cash games and the mid-to-late stages of tournaments. I specifically chose titles that I feel are more evergreen content and have stood the test of time. The concepts in each book are useful now and likely in 50 years.
I can confidently say if you read and implement all 5 of these poker books, your learning, and understanding of how to win money in poker will take a quantum leap forward. Even advanced players could use some brushing up every once and a while, and these classics are the perfect books to have in your library for that purpose. In fact, since I read them so often, some of these books on my shelf have come off the spine and are falling apart!
If you have read this far, here are a few titles I would recommend if you want to move on to more advanced poker topics. These books also stand the test of time and would be a proud addition to any poker library.
- Elements of Poker, by Tommy Angelo
If you have watched my videos or read my articles, you will see me mention the concept of reciprocality ever so often. Tommy Angelo is the author that coined that term! Elements of Poker is extremely entertaining and really informative to read. Mr. Angelo has a unique perspective when it comes to poker and his ideas are as profound as they are useful. Enjoy!
- The Theory Of Poker, by David Sklansky
While low in pure entertainment value, this book gets straight to the point of what type of thought process is necessary to become a successful poker player. Many good poker books build upon the foundation that Theory Of Poker has laid out. I highly recommend this book, but maybe only after you are a fairly advanced player.
- One Of A Kind, By Nolan Dalla
Okay, so this isn’t a strategy book. Even so, I feel it is a must-read for poker players. Not as a cautionary tale, but instead as a look into the most brilliant poker mind to ever live. Learn about Stu Ungar’s life and how he approached the game of poker. I am pretty sure it will make you a much better player, even if only by “osmosis.” Besides all of that, it is a damned entertaining read. Don’t know who Stu Ungar is? What would you consider a good tournament record? A 20% cash rate? Stu got top 3 in 21 out of 34 tournaments that he entered in his lifetime and won 10 out of 30 major tournaments. Let that sink in.
I hope you have enjoyed this article. If you want to know more about me, check out my homepage to learn more. I also wrote a book on playing a stack under 50 big blinds, which is ideal for learning poker! You will find my book compatible with the information found in the books I suggest. Thanks for reading, and please let me know what your favorite books are and why in the comments below!
Jim James has over 15 years of experience playing professionally and is the author of the best-selling book called Automatic Poker. Using a no-nonsense mathematical and logical approach to beating the games, he has won 7 figures at the poker table. Jim is well-known as the world’s leading expert on playing short or mid-stacked poker.
Today, he helps other players demystify what it takes to win money in No-Limit Hold’em and has helped countless people become winning poker players through his Online Poker Academy.